Life

VkEOtTI

2017

Columbia Pictures/Skydance Media

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Produced by David Ellison/Dana Goldberg/Bonnie/Julie Lynn

Written by Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick

See, it’s a good thing that I let a couple of hours pass by between my seeing a movie and writing a review. Because if I had written a review of LIFE right after coming out of the theater I would now be telling you that it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Which isn’t fair to the movie and isn’t true. After all, I’ve seen “The Blue Lagoon” “Cursed” “Cabin Fever” “Altitude” and “Hostel.” All of which were far more excruciating movie watching experiences than LIFE. And it’s not even that LIFE is really all that bad of a movie. It’s worse in that it’s an unnecessary movie. I would have expected to see a movie like this on The SyFy Channel as it’s no more than an “Alien” knock-off. Sure it’s got big star names such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. All of whom must have done this movie as a favor or for contractual obligations as there’s nothing they do in this movie that is particularly outstanding in terms of acting. And it’s got a nice budget for special effects which are pretty good.

But here’s the thing; the days when Science Fiction movies lived and died on their special effects are long gone. Because the technology has advanced to the point where there really is no such thing as a movie having crappy special effects anymore. Every Science Fiction movie we see now has eye-popping special effects that don’t even impress us anymore because we take it as a given that every movie has fantastic special effects. So to really get us into the movie it’s got to have either great characters or a terrific story or preferably, both. LIFE has neither. And at 103 minutes it doesn’t give itself time to have either. The hostile alien antagonist shows up almost at the beginning of the movie and barely 20 minutes in, a major cast member is killed off. And since that cast member provided most of the movie’s wit, charisma and humor up to that point, the rest of the movie is doomed to be flat, predictable and dull.

life3

The multinational crew of the International Space Station is overjoyed with recovering a probe from Mars that contains soil samples that contain proof of extraterrestrial life. The dormant organism responds to stimuli and soon not only returns to life but quickly grows into a creature that the crew’s exobiologist Hugh Derry (Aryion Bakare) describes as “all muscle, all brain.” The news is relayed to Earth and the news is received with such joy and hoohaw that there’s even a contest to name the thing among elementary schools in the U.S. The creature is christened ‘Calvin’ and there is much joy and celebration.

On Earth, that is. Not on the space station because Calvin breaks out of the lab and quickly establishes that it is hostile and deadly, killing one crew member and serious maiming another in less time than it took me to type this sentence. And from then on it’s a battle for survival. Calvin gets larger and more intelligent the more it kills and the crew soon comes to realize that no matter how this battle comes out, Calvin cannot get to Earth.

life-kodi-movie-2017

Now I really wish there was more for me to tell you about the movie but that’s it. Really. There’s no characterization to speak of so we really don’t get a chance to know these people before they start getting brutally killed off one by one. There is a scene where the Japanese member of the crew (Hiroyuki Sanada) is shown watching his daughter being born on Earth and for the rest of his time in the movie he constantly repeats how he has to get back to Earth to see her. Okay, I’m not entirely heartless. I fully understand the need of any father to want to see and hold his newborn daughter. But in this case, this is just lazy shorthand characterization to try and make us care about the character without really getting to know him. Give me reasons why I should care about this particular father and his desire to get back to Earth.

life-2017-movie-stills

Rebecca Ferguson who was such a knockout in “Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation” tries her best to bring some real emotion to her underwritten role and I give both her and Jake Gyllenhaal props for doing the best they can with such thin material to work with. And once I found out that the writers of this movie were the same writers responsible for the stupendously boring “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and the spectacularly unfunny “Deadpool” I knew exactly what the problem with the movie was.

My advice? Wait for LIFE to show up on Netflix or whatever is your favorite streaming service of choice if you really want to see it. It’s not worth burning the gas to go see it in the theater.

60969_ppl

103 Minutes

Rated R

Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

Kong-Skull-Island-Final-Official-Trailer-6

Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

skullislandheader-1

Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

cnbbsckr5r6qcgleelou

Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

A51A0055.dng

The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

A51A3620.dng

As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

PG-13

118

And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.

 

 

Get Out

get-out-movie

2017

Blumhouse Productions/QC Entertainment/Universal Pictures

Directed and Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum/Edward H. Hamm, Jr./Sean McKittrick/Jordan Peele

Years and years ago I was having a discussion with a Caucasian friend of mine. Over copious amounts of alcoholic beverages we discussed movies and he suddenly popped up with a question that had been plaguing him for some time and he felt he could ask me instead of some other black people of his acquaintance as he felt I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. He said that when he went to see horror movies, the black people in the audience were laughing at the terrible things happening to the characters in the movie. Why were they laughing? It confused him because they were, after all, horror movies. Who laughs at horror movies?

My answer: “They’re laughing because white folks do things in horror movies that you’d never catch black people doing. We don’t fool around investigating the supernatural or the paranormal. We don’t think it’s fun or cool to party in graveyards. We don’t go down in the dark basement where we know damn well the killer is hiding. We don’t think it would be a groove to go spend the weekend in a haunted house or at some remote camp where a buncha murders were committed. We don’t go back for our buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father if they trip and fall while running from the killer. We don’t go back for the dog or the cat. We don’t split up when we know there’s a mad killer on the loose so that he can pick us off one by one. Got the picture?”

Despite my flippant answer there have been a considerable number of outstanding horror movies with black protagonists. I’m thinking of “The Beast Must Die” “Ganja & Hess” “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Demon Knight” “Attack The Block” and “Night of The Living Dead” come to mind. GET OUT can be added to the list and may eventually be at the top. It’s a dynamic debut film from Jordan Peele who directs with the confidence and expertise of a much more seasoned director. Psychological horror and social satire are skillfully blended with a dash of comedy mixed in just enough to give us a chance to relax a bit before being plunged back into the nightmarish situation faced by Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)

01-get-out-w710-h473

Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to spend the weekend at her parents house. Chris is somewhat apprehensive because he’s black, she’s white and she has not told her parents she’s dating a black man. But she assures Chris that her parents are super cool and everything will be just fine.

Film Title: Get Out

And her parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) do indeed turn out to be pretty cool. Oh, sure Dean bends over so far backwards to show that he’s “down” and sympathetic with black people in such a way that it in itself is borderline racist while Missy is just a little too insistent that Chris allow her to hypnotize him to cure his smoking addiction.

Film Title: Get Out

Chris at first is relieved to see a couple of other black faces at the Armitage estate in the form of the maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) until he has a chance to talk to them. As he tells his best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery) they do not act like any black people he’s ever known. Rod of of the opinion that Chris should never have gone up there in the first place. And as the weekend goes on, Chris starts to think his boy just may be onto something. He meets Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who doesn’t bother to hide his creepy hostility toward Chris. And the Armitages host a party where most of the guests seem to know way more about Chris than he’s comfortable with. And that’s all you need to know. It’s not that GET OUT is a movie full of unexpected twists and turns. In fact, the trailers you’ve seen have told more than they should but there’s plenty left in GET OUT to be surprised with. But that is due more to the gradual building of suspense as the weirdness increases. GET OUT isn’t a movie that depends on violence and gore to make it’s point. It actually gets pretty deep in it’s use of horror movie tropes to examine race and racism while telling an entertaining story at the same time. It doesn’t beat you over the head with social commentary on race relations but there’s enough there to give you something to think about and discuss after you leave the theater.

Daniel Kaluuya holds the center of the movie just fine as our likable protagonist who is an everyday guy thrown into a situation way over his head. His character has some psychological baggage that helpes to round out the character and explains some of the choices he makes later on in the movie. But the MVP award has to be shared by Betty Gabriel and Lil Rey Howery. Betty Gabriel’s Georgina is without a doubt the scariest character in the movie and she made me jump more than once.

Film Title: Get Out

Lil Rey Howery provides most of the movie’s comedy, ruthlessly stealing every scene he’s in. Chris calls Rod during the weekend to keep him up to date on the increasing weirdness and later on, Rod takes a more proactive role which leads to probably the funniest scene in the movie, one that he shares with Erika Alexander who plays a police detective.

get-out-jordan-peele-must-watch-03

So should you see GET OUT? Absolutely. It’s a fascinating piece of work that has been compared to the best episodes of the classic “Twilight Zone” and “The Stepford Wives” and deservedly so. It’s that good. By all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

103 Minutes